Part 2: Sydney Airport to Quarantine Hotel Shanghai

Arriving to the departures area of the Sydney International Airport was surreal. What would normally be packed with taxis, luggage and people going everywhere, it was an almost ghost town or felt like I’d hired the airport just for myself and a few other special guests.

Going to check-in things looked a little more normal with a long line of people waiting! It was a usual long wait for check-in with a few temperature checks and a few barcodes of apps to say we had a blood serum test and had a knitting needle shoved two thirds into our brain within the past 72 hours and with a negative result. Some how my chin-up bars weren’t a problem at check in but my PVC didgeridoo was, despite it flying with me easily from Adelaide to Sydney, the least of my worries because I was starting to feel a sense of normality that had deserted me for many months before this point.

The turn from normality to abnormality came quickly. A last minute need to fill out yet another app for health screening had me getting on the plane as one of the last passengers. The moment when things really became different was walking down the gang plank towards the airplane door (I think it might actually be called an air bridge) and to the point just before the sharp turn to be at the actual door. As I did a 90° left turn to be at the door entrance there were about 10 people in full body suit PPE or hasmat looking suits – not with oxygen tanks but still creating a big sense of that I was entering a place I shouldn’t be!

In the plane there were more people with full PPE and I took my seat with hasmat people walking about the place where I had to snap at least one pic.

Eventually I learnt they were actually the air hosties! Despite the one feeling that I was in a nuclear fallout situation, the other feeling was pure joy to be in a moment I had been waiting at least 8 months for, if not 13.5 months since I was last overseas…

The flight was pretty uneventful having become moderately comfortable with the air hosties in their fully white PPE, which apparently the Chinese description for them is ‘big white’. The food was as sterile as the PPE suits and I actually don’t mind airplane food as I’m usually hungry enough to not care but the plastic lunch boxes of a roll, yoghurt, a cake, orange juice box and a kit-kat was our food for the entire 10.5 hour flight. After getting a little peckish again halfway through the flight I asked if they might have any other food and was presented with another plastic lunch box of a roll, yoghurt, a cake, orange juice box and kit-kat. By the end of the flight I’d consumed a further two more boxes of this!!!

A wet and bumpy arrival in Shanghai, because I presume the pilot and flight team were also in hasmat and couldn’t see the controls properly! We arrive just before 7pm local time (9pm Syd time) and the first wait took place as they emptied the plan in short bursts like trying to get into a nightclub. Row 68 did mean I was in a later category to exit the plane.

Once out of the plane a few people in hasmat and then a normal walk from arrival gate to customs where I got ahead a few positions with my fast-walking disposition. Before any immigration it was a temperature check machine and then down to some shipping containers where a long slow line was waiting with relatively frequent sounds of someone sounding like they were choking. Eventually I progressed in the line far enough to see we were to have another knitting needle investigation of our brain via our nose and it also seemed a tongue depressor put down our throat as well. By the time it was my turn I decided this was going to be fun and a challenge as I wasn’t going to be one of those loud sounds coming from a gage reflux. I almost didn’t make a sound till the hasmat person put the swap into my brain and then said she’s missed – missed what! And had to have another crack where I was to have the pleasure of another brain / swab inspection and a few twists to make sure the lobotomy was leaving me with less rather than more of my functioning capacities. It did remind me of the time when I had my vasectomy and I swear I heard the doctor say whoops – the photos of that a few days later tell the story! Next came the tongue depressor which I presumed was going to be the easy part but I’m pretty sure they use it to stick into the back of your throat to ensure a convulsion so they can bring up some stomach acid from childhood and sample that for good measure! I was firmly added to the tally of people who made a sound like a pig had been shot 😉 Maybe something like the first few seconds of this YouTube clip of a cricketer getting cramp – https://youtu.be/1-BWKKkOLwQ

Next was immigration and I was still a few steps from a potential rubble glove and cough situation! Immigration was painless with my 8-month-in-the-making visa doing the trick. I presume the words ‘empathy pass’ was written in Chinese characters somewhere on my visa.

From immigration it was a confusing array of bays where you had to state where you were living or where your hotel was. I didn’t have either so I gave the address of my workplace in one of the business districts. Then it was yet another app to download and input all my information once again. Not having a sim card nor being able to access internet made that a slightly difficult situation and in the end a hasmat guy did it on his own phone as I was clearly not making progress, along with the two other 80-year-old travellers who were from a bygone era before technology with me. That app filled out I waited for a while till someone asked me for a 5th or 6th time where I was going and on this occasion I said the area I think I should be going and this time it seemed I might have said it with a slightly different accent and was quickly whisked away to an elevator and up to another level with a few other people to report to more hasmat people with more apps…

Here we waited and waited in what I presumed was to be taken the potluck of quarantine hotels. Having been sat in a plane for 10+ hours and a couple of extra hours to this point I did some standing but there we waited for over an hour. No complaints as I’m sure all of this requires important organisation and my fellow passengers were tired but in good spirits.

Eventually we were ushered down to a bus after a few more QR code scans and I’d managed to befriend a Chinese uni student coming back from uni in Australia who was able to tell me a little more of what had happened and might be happening!

It’s quite a way from the Pudong plane station into the city but I was in tired delirious awe of being on foreign soil and knowing I was were I wanted to be… Only 4 of us got off at this hotel and I lost my translator but carried in my bag with chin-up bars hanging off the back, didgeridoo and various hand luggage and went into the reception.

Inside the eerie abandoned buildings of Jeju Island, South ...
Not exactly like this but maybe just as eerie!

Inside the reception it looked like a formerly abandoned luxury hotel that had been left to ruin where squatters had moved in and made the most of it – dead pot plants, dust, chairs on their side in random places and white chlorine stains everywhere. There was a single smallish table full of papers and stuff that we gathered around and this time filled out more pages of personal information – by pen not app on this occasion. The four of us were making our way through it till two of my fellow travellers started to get a bit irritated and then erupted in yelling at the hasmat person in front of them! It was a strange thing as a person in hasmat seems to hold the power balance in any interaction and having been dropped off into quarantine my guess is your level of bargaining or change of situation seems pretty limited! It didn’t stop them from yelling throwing their pen on the ground and storming around a little. By the time I got to page three I guessed their trigger point was the bill for ¥400 a night ($80AUD) as quoted to us before getting on the bus didn’t include food and that would be an extra ¥100 a day ($20AUD – $280AUD for 14 days). I wasn’t paying, my work was, so I didn’t feel the need for a shout and pen throw but did feel sorry for the couple who would have forked out a lot of money to get to this point and a little salt added to the wound after a long day. They would have 14 days in a room to think it over I suppose and hopefully come to peace with it!

I was allocated room 1829 on the 18th floor and took myself up there with no more hasmat people around like going to your hotel room on any other previous time in life pre-COVID which was unnerving making me feel like I’ll be leaving in the morning and not spending the next 14 days ONLY in this space. I’d also heard stories from work colleagues and others that you don’t really know what kind of quarantine accommodation you’ll get… You might not get a window or be able to open a window or food that is mainly fishheads, etc… I opened the door and found what would normally be a very comfortable hotel room and found out it was actually a very comfortable hotel room. I quickly did a window investigation and found not only did I have nice big windows, but I could also open them, in fact I couldn’t close them properly leading to the room being quite chilly and noisy with a huge highway just below! Still I was happy to have a good room with a bit of a view and as my good friend told me there was no way it was going to be worse than anything I’ve staying in before! 😉

It was now past midnight more than 5 hours after landing but I was happy to be in China, in a room and closer to starting my life living and working with Dulwich in China!

However, before getting into bed for a needed slumber I did unpack a few things and noticed a screw had come loose from my chin up bars leaving them useless for chin ups in the coming two weeks of iso ☹, I also saw my didg had cracked near the mouthpiece that hopefully was still useable – it was, so saved on that front.

Lights out and a satisfied smile and sleep knowing I was in China and back in my rhythm of life living in a foreign country, albeit in a room 18 floors above the ground for the next two weeks…

About Living Geo d'Arcy

Experiences are the richest thing in life. Love them and live them.
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1 Response to Part 2: Sydney Airport to Quarantine Hotel Shanghai

  1. Pingback: Part 3: First Impressions and Days of Quarantine | Living Geography with d'Arcy

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